By Gloria Origgi, Princeton University Press, November 27, 2017, 0691175357

Reputation is a powerful book that explains why who I am is the interplay between my image(s) of me, others’ image(s) of me, and my being. At a simple level, celebrity changes people, and we are all celebrities.

Gloria Origgi writes like an academic so the book is complicated to read at times. The scope of the book is extremely broad, because she is trying to tie in history, literature, philosophy, social science, and the scientific method. Not simple, and the result is more complicated than I would like. I’ve read three books by Italian professors recently, and they contain some complicated constructions so perhaps it’s the way of Italian professors. On the other hand, many of the complex sentences are beautifully crafted so there’s value there (for me at least).

Origgi makes many good points about how we become who we are. When learning a new topic, we first have to learn whom to trust, which comes down to reputation. Once we have learned something, our reputation based on that knowledge affects how we grow. There is no objective evaluation of anything, and we always evaluate the source along with the knowledge.

I enjoyed the book very much. There is a lot of detail about literature, culture, philosophy, etc. For example, I didn’t realize that Robert Parker skyrocketed to become the world’s most trusted wine expert, and Origgi’s take on why is very interesting.

[k57] This book tries to explain why reputation is so important, personally and socially, as well as how it circulates, how it is transformed and distorted, and how it affects what others say about us. The book raises two fundamental philosophical questions about reputation. First: Can reputation be considered a rational motivation for action? What drives us to defend or improve or repair our reputation? And second: Can reputation be considered a rational justification in the acquisition of information? When, on the basis of reputation, we choose a doctor or a bottle of wine or adopt a point of view are we acting in a rational way?

[k186] All of us have two egos, two selves. These parallel and distinguishable identities make up who we are and profoundly affect how we behave. One is our subjectivity, consisting of our proprioceptive experiences, the physical sensations registered in our body. The other is our reputation, a reflection of ourselves that constitutes our social identity and makes how we see ourselves seen integral to our self-awareness. At the beginning of the twentieth century, American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley3 called this second ego the looking-glass self.

[k213] More than a third of the homicides committed in the United States have surprisingly trivial causes such as verbal altercations, wanton insults, or even disputes about who is first in line to occupy a just-vacated parking space.

[k226] Being honorable is nothing more than being recognized as honorable by someone else.

[k236] Unfortunately, as George Elliot wisely remarked, “the last thing we learn in life is our effect on others.” How we think we are seen seldom reflects how we are actually seen.

[k257] Although the way we see how others see us can occasionally cause us to lose control, it is, at the same time, the part of ourselves we prize most highly and on which we lavish the tenderest care. If we fail to distinguish between our two egos, our actions will often make no sense and we can find ourselves plunged into a state of profound confusion where we can no longer understand why we act the way we do.

[k284] Those who dismiss reputation along these lines see it as a psychological illusion. We react to it as if it existed, as if it mattered to us, but, in reality, there is nothing there.

[k288] Illusory or not, our understanding of how others see us can have extreme consequences.

[k290] Take the notorious case of Orlando Figes, a rich and famous British historian who used to spend his nights on anonymously savaging his colleagues’ books and writing fulsome eulogies of his own works, only to end up being denounced to the police and deprived of the last drop of that precious elixir he had hoped to distill online: his scholarly reputation.

[k294] Far from being superficial or cosmetic, it involves the deep strategic matter of social cognition.

[k295] Reputation management is an arms race, an escalation game of believing and make-believing, of manipulating other people’s ideas and being manipulated by them in turn.

[k296] We all know the feeling of triumph that we experience when we think we have been appreciated for what we are really worth. Previous humiliations are erased; the world recognizes us at last as we always knew we deserved. And all of us, alas, have also experienced the opposite feeling of letdown and defeat when we capitulate before the disdain of others–when we are humiliated and belittled but nevertheless accede to their unfavorable way of measuring our worth.

[k435] The fear of disappointing others is often little more than a self-induced phantasm.

[k629] There is nothing eternal or universal in nature; it is only a matter of one’s time horizons.

[k647] Sociobiologists claim to have found an explanation for the empirically observable but puzzling existence of altruism in the theory of kin selection.

[k650] The problem with this sociobiological hypothesis is that the human species goes far beyond such simple forms of kin-based altruism.

[k660] Trivers is today considered the greatest living evolutionary biologist.

[k664] In other words, altruists expose themselves to momentary risks contrary to their short-term interests because they are anticipating future gains.

[k706] Indirect reciprocity is specific to human society and, on this theory, provides the basis for the evolution of moral norms.

[k751] If the moral image I have of myself–the conviction that I am a good, honest, and virtuous person–is the most important thing for me, then I will refuse to behave in a way that endangers this self-image, regardless of what others think.

[k769] On the other hand, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all self-interested individuals may be alike, but everyone is disinterested in his own way.

[k815] discussing theories that focus on phylogeny,

[k1056] Yet reputation, far from being a simple opinion, is a public representation of what we believe to be the opinions of others.

[k1062] Both the essentially communicative nature of reputation and its centrality to social order become clear once we see it as an opinion we have of the more or less authoritative opinions formed by others–that is to say, as a second-order opinion, as something we believe we must believe.

[k1070] Informal reputations have a terrible reputation. Idle gossip and scandalmongering are blamed for many of our wholly baseless and erroneous opinions.

[k1073] These surreptitious and unofficial channels from which we draw many of our beliefs are said to nourish and exacerbate collective ignorance, mass irrationality, and uncritical credulity. But is this really the case?

[k1090] Subjects of a dictatorial regime, for instance, are typically wary of open dissent against their government. For safety’s sake, they aim to keep their heads down by giving lip service to whatever they take to be the majority opinion.

[k1093] The phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance thus illustrates the essentially communicative aspect of reputation.

[k1095] The point to stress here is that reputation is always an opinion about an opinion, that is, a “meta-representation” that dictates what opinions we should hold about other people.

[k1102] But sometimes this collective verdict does not really exist. It is simply a matter of everyone being erroneously convinced that everyone else has endorsed it.

[k1254] Gossip therefore has a double social function: to transmit informal and unauthorized information that nevertheless permits the questioning of received ideas and to reinforce membership in the circle of recognition of those who accept the authority of the “social evidence” that is transmitted by gossip.

[k1318] Trump is clearly a past master of informal propaganda. Rumors are at once means and message.

[k1320] But in contrast to prejudices, which are stable components of a community’s cognitive life and constitute permanent distortions of reputation, rumors have a short half-life and are quickly forgotten.

[k1459] We have no social capital if others do not recognize it.

[k1471] Like Bourdieu, Coleman sees social capital as a motivation for action that should be distinguished from purely economic motivations.

[k1585] The sociology of status analyzes social standing as “accumulated acts of deference.” What makes this definition interesting is that social agents can defer to others because of attributes or qualities that are not immediately useful or important to those who defer. This makes the deference model of status very different from classical, strategic models of reputation. In those models, what I appreciate in the other is what satisfies my expectations of possible future interactions and exchanges. For the sociology of status, by contrast, I can defer to qualities that are of no immediate interest to me and whose existence in others is not of any palpable benefit to me.

[k1620] Karpik’s “judgment devices” help reduce uncertainty regarding quality. They provide specific information, that is, information that already includes an evaluation. In Valuing the Unique, as mentioned, Karpik analyzes systems particular to the market of singularities, a market characterized by strong informational asymmetries and by collective distributions of beliefs inscribed within traditions, which Karpik calls “cultural complexes.” But we can extend Karpik’s analysis of these devices beyond the market for cultural goods where informational asymmetry has already been thoroughly studied within the sociological literature.

[k1630] Some sociologists claim that this fixation on comparison, by now ubiquitous in all dimensions of our lives, alters substantially the relation between user and product. According to their analysis, the user’s capacity to appreciate is reduced by the constant resort to comparative devices, to the detriment of appreciating the uniqueness of a product, an idea, or, even more disquietingly, a person.

[k1695] A social science of reputation will have to study, under controlled conditions, many variations on the dimensions I have listed: asymmetry, authority, robustness, and temporality. One goal would be to reduce the intrinsic uncertainty that afflicts our own reputations and those we bestow on others. Understanding the mechanisms that are responsible for fluctuations of reputation could conceivably help us calm the anxiety arising from the way our own image and that of the world are regularly reflected and distorted by the ever-present social mirror.

[k1796] Why do we trust other people? I shall distinguish seven different mechanisms, both social and cognitive, that are at the basis of our trust in others: 1. inferences regarding the reliability of the speaker 2. inferences regarding the reliability of the content of the information transmitted and received 3. internalized social norms of deference to authority 4. socially distributed reputational cues 5. robust signals 6. emotional reactions 7. moral commitments These mechanisms do not operate in isolation from one another.

[k1867] In the case of Twitter, one of the social networks where the reliability of information counts most, the linguistic coherence and structure of a tweet decisively influences its circulation. Dan Sperber’s argumentative theory of reasoning maintains that the logical structure of an argument is an important indicator of its reliability.

[k1880] Our mental life is populated by countless thoughts and beliefs that we only partly understand but that nevertheless structure our common sense and that we can question only with immense difficulty.

[k1897] Common sense itself is structured by authority relations that we cannot put into question. They are at the core of our social identity.

[k2114] From the Greek agon to artistic competitions in the Renaissance, the main techniques for the management of reputation, especially in creative contexts, have been the tournament, the prize, and the resulting membership of the winners in an exclusive club of the happy few.

[k2124] Admittedly, the criteria of selection can be mysterious and the transparency of the process disputable. This is what led Jorge Luis Borges to say: “Success is a misunderstanding, maybe the worst of all.” And yet the result is clear: presence on a list can launch our reputation.

[k2265] Among economic theories, the most relevant are those that interpret reputation as a scarce resource and that see demand for this scarce resource as a constraint on behavior.

[k2274] Value is not inherent in things or persons themselves. Rather, like images reflected ad infinitum in two facing mirrors, value is wholly relational. It originates in the relationship between things or persons. It is the autonomous product of comparative exchange; and it has no other purpose or significance. We create value to create value. Value cannot be reduced to other preexisting factors, such as utility, scarcity, or labor as understood in economics.

[k2286] A hardwired comparative consciousness is one of the most distinctive characteristics of human nature.

[k2288] Homo comparativus reads the world through an evaluative prism. Our very sense of objectivity presupposes a hierarchy of values.

[k2334] A final example comes from sociologist Eiko Ikegami, who, in order to underline the comparative element in the construction of the “self” in Japan, reconstructs a social history of the Samurai to demonstrate that the specificity of Japanese civilization is not collectivism but rather a culture of comparative competition where honor and rivalrous comparisons with others play an absolutely critical role.

[k2452] Honor is not a code. It is a felt relationship. It exists only in relation to others.

[k2475] Acts of deference that distribute honor, prestige, or reputation demand a certain degree of reciprocity. That is one of the most interesting findings of Merton’s sociology of status and hierarchy.

[k2481] Yet celebrities must occasionally express admiration for their fans.

[k2577] Indeed, we are now faced with a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the information age, we are moving toward an age of reputation in which information will have value only if it is already sifted, evaluated, and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation is a central pillar of collective intelligence today.

[k2863] An efficient knowledge system will inevitably grow by generating a variety of evaluative tools. That is how culture grows and how traditions gain their contours. A cultural tradition is, first of all, a labeling system distinguishing insiders from outsiders and those who innovate from those who are sunk in the magma of the past.

[k2866] The good news is that in the Web era such inevitable evaluations are made through new, collective tools that challenge received views and help develop and improve innovative and sometimes more democratic ways of selecting knowledge.

[k2897] I turn in this chapter to reputation in the market for wine because wine, for several reasons, provides a paradigm for the role played by reputation in introducing novices to a new domain of taste.

[k2984] We need experts, tags, labels, and rating systems in order to acquire a capacity for discrimination, to understand the style of thought that is proper to a particular epistemic domain.

[k2992] Assessing an expert’s or a label’s reputation is a way of orienting our trust in a new domain of knowledge so as to defer appropriately to the expertise of others (the expert or the labeling institution) in the early learning phase when making autonomous judgments is not yet possible.

[k3000] Formulated differently, we do not acquire information in order to assess other people’s reputation; we assess their reputation in order to acquire information.

[k3083] As Podolny shows, half of the bottles that bear the name “Napa Valley” on their labels are not produced within Napa Valley.

[k3103] A former lawyer, born in Baltimore in 1947, Parker began writing wine reports around 1975 and has since become one of the most respected critics throughout the world. By 1998, his publication, The Wine Advocate, had more than 45,000 subscribers. His rise coincides with the rise of American wine and its now worldwide reputation.

[k3109] How did Robert Parker succeed in imposing himself as the world’s most authoritative connoisseur in the domain of wine expertise? Why do people everywhere trust his judgments?

[k3119] Professional blind tastings are performed under controlled conditions by panels of experts. But Parker has never agreed to be part of these panels. He presents himself as an independent critic and has not been formally trained in wine.

[k3139] Integrity, democracy, and intelligibility are constituents of Parker’s self-professed identity, and it is on the basis of such appraisals of his identity that consumers decide to trust him.

[k3153] Although a science of wine is still beyond our ken, the sketch of an epistemology of wine that I have just outlined is an attempt to describe how people do and should structure their knowledge, which heuristics they employ, and which experts they trust in navigating a historically embedded and epistemologically entangled corpus of knowledge such as wine expertise. Gaston Bachelard used to say that science has not had the philosophy it deserves. In the case of wine, it would be perhaps more appropriate to say that philosophy has not had the science it deserves.


[k3186] If there is an institution that feeds on reputation, it is the academy.

[k3333] Indeed, researchers now engage in a kind of voluntary servitude, magnanimously providing the content of articles which, after being tossed into the scientometrics hopper, ultimately increase the value of productivity indicators in a marketplace that resembles a new “science of scientific work” more than it resembles “science” conceived as a calling devoted to the advancement of knowledge.

[k3369] Publishers, for their part, use the reputation of a few titles with a very high impact factor to induce university and research libraries to purchase a whole catalogue or package of journals. That is how they have managed to jack up the budgets of universities and libraries devoted to journals, budgets, which, between 1986 and 2011 in the United States, increased by 402 percent.

[k3419] Too much innovation and we run the risk of not being recognized or, worse, being ostracized as a threat to our tradition. Efforts to avoid this risk, unfortunately, often result in “academicism,” producing justified criticisms of the conformist effects of emulation. It remains true, in any case, that emulation is also and correctly considered a “virtue” of systems based on a logic of prestige.

[k3602] The problem, as we have seen, is that our intuitive judgments about the value of reputational cues, though perhaps harmless in the case of snobs, become dangerous when they affect political life and public choices. This is not to say that naive and ill-informed uses of reputational indicia by institutions are always malevolent.

[k3613] Evaluating a scientific researcher by measuring that researcher’s “output,” when we know that in many cases he or she produces only to satisfy standard measurement criteria (a bit like Keynes’s proposal to have workers dig holes so that they can subsequently fill them in), should not affect something as serious as determining the worth of a researcher’s contribution to science.

[k3620] As a consequence, what are often presented as ways to render evaluation objective, namely ranking systems and metrics of popularity and prestige, are based on prescientific intuitions and subjective anxieties about social status strongly influenced by traditional prejudices associated with the perception of hierarchy.

[k3619] But the epistemology that interests us today, focused on indirect knowledge of the world, has a very short history. As a consequence, what are often presented as ways to render evaluation objective, namely ranking systems and metrics of popularity and prestige, are based on prescientific intuitions and subjective anxieties about social status strongly influenced by traditional prejudices associated with the perception of hierarchy.

[k3642] Liberal democracy and the market economy, based as they are on perceived self-interest rather than communal bonds, have not eliminated the hierarchical structures shaping social ties in a society.

[k3659] Among other things, we should begin to develop, in the social sciences, theories that take as their unit of analysis not the rational self-interested actor, still dominant in economics and the neoclassical theory of rational choice, but a much more complex and dramatic personality, a reputational actor who is eminently social and whose rationality cannot be explained without taking symbolic motivations into account.

[k3667] If we do not take these consequences of our actions into account, if we limit ourselves to an individualistic and self-interested theory of behavior, not only will we run the risk of no longer understanding the true springs of human action, but we will also be tempted to structure institutions around incentives and sanctions that ignore what motivates people to act, assuming the existence of an abstract subject that does not match who human beings really are.

[k3672] Our future understanding of social action will depend essentially on how well our future social science theories manage to grasp the nature of homo comparativus.

[k3687] The human subject in the Internet age is neither authentic nor phony. Indeed, the distinction between authenticity (complete freedom from the opinions of others) and bad faith (renouncing inner freedom and succumbing to social pressures) is much too sharply drawn. The human being today is an intensely social subject, a cognitive being who constructs itself through the continuous internalization of feedback received from observers whose reflected judgments the targeted subject then seeks ceaselessly to influence and embellish.

[k3691] If we nevertheless wished to attribute some meaning to the concept of “authenticity,” we might define it as the encounter, rare and perfect, between the image we want to give of ourselves and the way we are seen by others, as in the famous Gatsby’s smile discussed in chapter 4.

[k3695] But notice: we become authentic not by turning our backs on society in a gesture of total (or “inner”) freedom but, on the contrary, precisely thanks to the gaze of others.

[k3696] Reputation is not a mere shadow cast by our character on the wall. Such a trite image denies any constitutive role of reputation in the development of character. Exposing the inadequacy of this cavalierly dismissive attitude toward reputation has been one of the central purposes of this book.

[k3699] Without consciousness of the interdependence between me and my image in the eyes of others, between my actions and my reputation, I cannot understand either who I am or why I act.